Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
STANDING COMMITTEE ON EDUCATION AND TRAINING
06/07/2010
School libraries and teacher librarians in Australian schools

CHAIR —Welcome. The committee does not require you to give evidence under oath, although I should advise you that the hearing is a legal proceeding of the parliament and therefore has the same standing as proceedings of the respective houses. We have had the opportunity to look at your written submission, and we thank you for that. I invite you to make some brief opening statements and then we will go to a question and answer session.

Mr Francis —I am happy to make a brief opening. Thank you for the opportunity to come down here and speak on behalf of the department. I would, firstly, like to acknowledge the professionalism of our entire workforce, particularly our teaching workforce and teacher librarians. I acknowledge the professionalism of those who have come to the inquiry today. I would defer to the QTU’s chronology of events that have taken place in history in this space. No doubt it is correct, although some of the detail and intent may be a bit varied. I would like to acknowledge, though, that schools have changed a lot since 1996. My area, Workforce Futures, is currently undertaking short-, medium- and long-term workforce planning on behalf of the department, through to 2020, looking at the way schools, the community and roles of people in our department who support the community are likely to change to continue Queensland’s economic growth.

The role that teacher librarians will play within the overall scheme of things will be determined as we analyse the data that we are currently collecting. We are undertaking a significant collection of data and there will be an analysis of that data to provide us with a firm evidence base for the decisions that we make. One thing I would point to would be the need to really interrogate the information provided to you through the inquiry, to ensure that there really is a sound evidence base for the decisions which are being made. Currently, our area is leading nationally the development of a national teaching workforce dataset through the National Partnership for Improving Teacher Quality. That is an acknowledgement that the whole teaching area within Australia has a really limited evidence base. I think we in Queensland could stand up and say we actually do have a strong evidence base through our datasets, but perhaps it is not so strong in other jurisdictions. We allude to that in our submission.

There are two more bits that I would point to. One would be acknowledging the national shift towards notions of school autonomy, the tying to school leadership of greater levels of accountability and the calls from our school leaders that if they are going to be landed with this then they also want to have greater autonomy in the allocation of resources within a school. I would acknowledge our confidence in our principals to make the very best decisions regarding the way those resources are allocated within a school. I would also acknowledge the notion that in the year 2010 knowledge workers is a term that can apply to our teachers as well as to our teacher librarians. I had 15 years in schools in a varying range of roles and my colleagues on either side of me had significant experience in schools. We acknowledge the way that the role of a teacher has changed and how much more is subsumed under that notion of a teacher, including the notion of being a knowledge worker. I do not know if either of them would like to add to my introduction.

CHAIR —We might move on, Mr Francis. Thanks very much for that and thanks for the written submission. I assume that the names at the end of each section indicate that different people contributed different pieces of feedback. I would say to you, as an old English History teacher, that there is a different tone in different people’s submissions, so there are different emphases across the view of your own department. I am going to put some direct questions to you about what things have come up with education authorities that are of real interest to us. One, and you have touched on this issue, is the devolution of decision making. Part of our concern, given the evidence that we have received, is that there are so many pressures on principals to be across so many areas that many of them do not, for example, even know about teacher librarian standards and roles and have not read things like the Lonsdale report. In fact, we have found senior bureaucrats in government departments who are unaware of the report and the direct links in international research between well-resourced hub libraries in schools and driving literacy and numeracy rates at a much greater level than by any other sort of intervention. We understand what you say about devolution. We understand what you say about principals being given choice and decisions. Most of the independent sector schools have very big libraries very well staffed with experts and the resources to do that, and they choose to do it because they know it is effective. Our concern is this: how do you in a devolved scheme ensure equity of access to what are evidence based methods of improving things like literacy and numeracy with all the pressures that a principal is under on a day to day management of a school basis? How do you drive that quality agenda if it is just devolved?

Mr Francis —We could start by stepping back and looking at the notion of devolution of authority and where that is being derived from, and largely it is not from within employing authorities; it goes back to government at a national level over a number of years. In terms of leadership and leadership development, and there is a broad spectrum of that and it is not contained within a notion of teacher librarians, there is acknowledgement within Queensland and nationally that with leadership in modern schools, in contemporary schools, particularly our complex schools—and state schools tend to be far more complex and interesting than perhaps some of the large independent schools are—we do need to better support our leaders and we do need to better recruit, select, support and provide professional development to leaders across a range of areas. That is part of the reason why the Queensland government has established the Queensland Education Leadership Institute, which is a dedicated stand-alone organisation that would provide that leadership, and why we are cohosting the AISTL, the Australian Institute for School Teaching and Leadership, which will be collocated in Brisbane and will have a strong focus on the broad range of expectations that we are placing on our school leaders. So that would be my response.

CHAIR —Yes, I can understand that, and if you want to add anything please do so. One of the concerns that I have had from my own experience—and I started teaching quite a while ago—is this. We went to these devolved systems and we got rid of the old schools—and I am from the New South Wales system—and the actual curriculum expertise that went up to the departmental level that drove quality. As a History teacher, I knew there was somebody within the department who was driving the History agenda and to whom I could actually go for expertise and so forth. To me it seems that there were a range of things that were particularly vulnerable—music education, for example. But also the teacher librarian and the role of the library were particularly vulnerable when we disbanded and went down to that much more regional if not school based system. So I am interested to know about all this. You talk about the leadership part of it—and I think that is important—but you cannot expect the manager of a school, the school principal, to be all and everything. They are not going to be physically able to manage it. So I am interested in the systems that you can put in place to provide that professional quality and leadership.

Mr Francis —One thing, and I will turn to Laurie in a moment, is I would be interested to know if we are talking about Queensland specifically or if we are looking at other jurisdictions in terms of the models provided. You would be aware that the Victorian state education system has a very advanced level of devolution of all of those aspects of school leadership.

CHAIR —We could not ask them questions, Gary, as they would not appear before us.

Mr Francis —I know them well, and they wear the badge of school performance very highly on their chest. If we are going to look for an evidence base as to whether or not devolution leads to school performance improvement I think we would need to make some comparative reviews across jurisdictions. We are at a very early stage of any devolution of authority. In terms of whether or not decisions are being made with regard to the role of teacher librarians, the evidence base that I would put forward is in the submission, which I think alludes to about 72 per cent of teacher librarians in 2007 having a qualification for that purpose and a significant additional element having significant experience in the role. I am not sure if there is an evidence base that says that principals are under pressure and making poor decisions about placing individuals in charge of school libraries and leading to—

CHAIR —I think you are narrowing my comments way down. My concern is this. We have got a lot of evidence about the 21st century environment that students are going to function in, that navigating the information online world is a huge part of that and that there is very little expertise—not none. I think, even as an old English History teacher, I would accept that I would have to be a knowledge worker/teacher as well. But to me it is like saying, ‘Sharon, go back and do your job as an MP and do it without the Parliamentary Library.’ Well, I tell you what: I would shoot you if you said that to me. So my concern is that we are saying to teachers and to principals, ‘You can take all this on as well,’ without the back-up of that leading-edge expertise that can be provided by a really effective teacher librarian. Laurie, did you want to add something?

Mr Campbell —Yes, and thank you for the opportunity. Firstly, to follow on from your comments before and to support Gary’s comments, I think it is an understatement to say that digital technology and ICTs pervade every part of learning in our lives. That is pretty clear. I think the digital education revolution, the Building the Education Revolution and, more recently, the promises of the National Broadband Network have provided significant opportunities—and excitement—for school communities to re-imagine their school libraries in supporting the learning needs of students, staff and the broader community.

To that end, we have been working closely with schools. In the context of e-learning, I look after library services—I was given that group a few years back—and we have been moving to reallocate some of our services. We provide professional development in a blended model, both face to face and online. The department, in providing that support for not only school leaders but teachers and specialists, have provided a rich online learning environment that has over 400,000 students and teachers enrolled in it. We provide a whole range of different PD options. One of the ones we are trialling at the moment is to provide that more directly as a trial course to teacher librarians gaining their digital competencies through the licence. Over the last 18 months we have also targeted a number of programs that have involved over 365 principals. In dealing with principals we bring them away and we help them understand the changing needs of students in a digital context, the demands on them as a leader making decisions in that context and also the capabilities and opportunities that the new policy changes and incentives are providing for them to re-imagine learning in their schools. One of the features of that is that lots of the principals have gone back and started different conversations with their leadership group, including their teacher librarians, about that.

In addition we have run workshops specifically around re-imagining libraries and the function of libraries. There have been 35 workshops in the last 18 months across seven regions, so that is all regions of Queensland, involving over 1,300 staff from over 400 schools. Primarily they have been principals or deputies and leadership, as well as teacher librarians and other people who are responsible for resourcing across a school. It has involved getting them to discuss an issue that some other witnesses have raised with the committee and that I have seen in the papers, and that is about rethinking what the learning commons or learning hub is going to be and the important role that that plays in the fabric of the school.

CHAIR —It is encouraging. And that is great at the high level. I am just concerned, when you translate something into a school, about how the school will manage. If a principal who got this said, ‘This sounds great, this is the 21st century school that I want to build for my school,’ what happens if they go back to the school and the person to actually implement this stuff and make it happen is not there? We came out of the Northern Territory yesterday, so we perhaps have a more grim view of the world then you might want us to have, but it seems to me that that person on the ground is a really critical part of exactly what you are describing in order to make that happen. These are not small tasks. We are talking about literally a major revolution in the way our schools operate. What you are talking about is encouraging. I am just looking to see how that actually happens at the school level in real and meaningful ways.

Ms McCullough —I would like to add some comments, and I will be talking at a broader level so I will not be able to indicate things at a school level. I think that we can still have devolution and some decision making at the school—and I am sure that is exactly what you are suggesting as well. But the key driver where it does hit the school itself, certainly in the teaching and learning branch, is around some of that policy direction as well. I know that the union has already mentioned the NAPLAN results on literacy and numeracy. Those sorts of activities that are key to the regions and key to the teachers and the schools are where we might be able to do some of that work as well.

CHAIR —Did you hear the evidence presented by the software company Softlink about the survey they had of 500 and the direct correlation between the NAPLAN results for the schools that responded and the existence of well-resourced and staffed libraries? Do you have a look, in terms of your policy development, at whether there are direct links? International surveys, done in the US and UK, say there are direct links between literacy and numeracy outcomes and not just the existence of libraries but the resourcing and staffing of libraries. Have you done anything along those lines that would provide evidence in that area?

Mr Francis —I could talk in terms of the workforce side. In terms of school performance, we would need to make some cross-linkages. Coming from data analysis, I would also ask whether there are bigger questions in a school. Simply tying school performance to the existence of a library can sometimes be misleading. It may well be that there is a great leader in that school, full stop.

CHAIR —Absolutely, but that would be a one-off result in a survey. These are studies of major American universities, in Chicago schools and places like that. I am sure they are not going to be misled by one leader who is great in a school. There is fairly strong evidence internationally. Are you aware of whether anything is being done on the Australian scene? Clearly, that research would also have to identify what is effective about the library and its integration in the school. We were frustrated by the federal department presenting evidence to us and telling us that, under the National Partnership on Literacy and Numeracy, libraries and school librarians were not involved in delivering the program, so there was no evidence collected. Yet we knew from our schools, which we have visited, but many of these program ran in school libraries and were led by teacher librarians. There was something about the way we were collecting and reporting the data which led the federal department to say that. I am looking for whether you are actively out there saying, ‘Let’s get some data, let us have a look at this and see.’

Mr Francis —Certainly there is a melding of the human resources and school performance data, and seeking solutions that will provide an evidence base for strategies to respond.

CHAIR —Yes. You are in the process of doing that, you are saying to me?

Mr Francis —Absolutely.

Dr JENSEN —How many teacher librarians are there in Queensland at the moment? Do you have a breakdown of private and public?

Mr Francis —I do not have those figures of the allocative methodology, which is provided to schools.

Dr JENSEN —Not even in terms of the number of teacher librarians in Queensland, regardless of whether they are public or private?

Mr Francis —We are currently undertaking a qualification survey of all of our staff. That data will be with us in the next month. We put caveats over it, such as people who self-identify as teacher librarian; some people, for whatever reason, will not do that. We are also making assumptions about the validity of that data. So provides us with an evidence base, but the strength of decision-making—

Dr JENSEN —A problem has come to light and that is those statistics are probably very difficult to a obtain because it would appear that—and I do not think Queensland is unique in this regard—you do not even have a box to tick in terms of a qualification of teacher librarian, and, as you have said, it is a matter of self-identification. It may very well be the case that you have people identifying as teacher librarians who, in fact, are not.

Mr Francis —The data we are collecting now in the qualification survey there is a box for people to tick the teacher librarian. On the other forms of data we maintain against employees, under the industrial arrangements we have we cannot necessarily get further levels of qualification from staff, which is a concern also with the Queensland College of teachers—we work closely with those people. We would like to be able to draw on some data source to identify the qualifications of teachers. They are not required to provide it so they do not and that is part of the drive between the National teaching workforce dataset which we are leading the work on. That is the kind of thing we are trying to resolve with that work, through the Improving Teacher Quality National Partnership. There is just not that evidence based there. At the same time, we need to work through the industrial barriers to requiring our employees to tell us what their highest level of qualification is.

CHAIR —That is how many are qualified teacher librarians. Can you not tell us how many new employee as teacher librarians?

Mr Francis —We can give the allocative methodology, we could give that number at the conclusion of the survey.

CHAIR —What we would be most interested in is unfilled positions, which we were discussing with Catholic education also.

Dr JENSEN —That is one aspect. Another thing that I am interested in is the trend over time—whether the trend is an increase in the number of teacher librarians, both in real terms and normalised for population increases or decreases in schools, to see whether this is a profession that is going downhill or actually picking up. The interesting thing is that some of the anecdotal evidence that we have been getting, particularly in some states, is that this is a profession that is being allowed to die; whether it is passive or active is another question. But we have had some evidence from the Queensland University of Technology that in fact the number of students that are now doing the postgraduate course in teacher librarianship has actually been increasing over the last two or three years. Do you have any feel for whether there has been an increase or a decrease over, say, the last 10 or 20 years?

Mr Francis —I do not believe data has been held in that particular field over an extended period. I can talk to 2007 and I can talk to 2010 once we have that data available, so in terms of trend data it would be a very small sample.

CHAIR —Has the staffing formula—the formula for entitlement to a teacher librarian—changed significantly over time or has the same one pretty much been in place for a reasonable amount of time?

Mr Francis —I would prefer not to answer. Personally, I believe it has been going on that formula for around a decade, if not longer, but I cannot confirm that here.

Dr JENSEN —Just to finish, does it concern the department at all that something as basic as a statistic on this is not easily available?

Mr Francis —Absolutely, and that is why we are putting in place processes that will enable us to get that data. But it is very difficult. As I said, we cannot necessarily go straight to our employees and require them to provide us with their highest level of qualification, and we cannot mandate that.

Dr JENSEN —You will excuse me if I say that I find that staggering.

Mr Francis —Absolutely.

Interjectors—Hear, hear!

Dr JENSEN —If you become a physician, you are required to demonstrate that you actually achieved that standard. The same thing goes for lawyers. The same thing goes for scientists. The same thing goes for engineers. You are saying that there is a professional qualification, but there is no requirement for demonstrated proof of that.

Mr Francis —The qualification to entry and gaining registration as a teacher in Queensland is required. Once a teacher has achieved registration as a teacher, they are registered by the Queensland College of Teachers and we can employ them as a teacher. There is no requirement—and as an employing authority we would love to have that capability but we do operate in an environment where our employees, to a large degree, are members of the Queensland Teachers Union and—

CHAIR —I think we are at cross-purposes here. I think Dennis is presuming that you are employing people as teacher librarians without knowing that they have teacher librarian qualifications.

Mr Francis —The process for employing a teacher librarian in Queensland would predominantly begin with identification of a vacancy at a regional level. We employ a number of regional human resources consultants who would identify people by qualification in the same way that they would for schools who might be looking for a senior maths teacher, a soc teacher, a PE teacher or a primary school early-years teacher. They would find from the list of people, either through transfer within their own employees or from the applicant pool, the person with the best possible qualifications to go into that area.

CHAIR —Do they have to have dual qualification to apply to be a teacher librarian?

Mr Francis —I think the agreement with regard to employing teacher librarians is outlined in the certified agreement, which I understand is contained in one of the submissions, either ours or the Queensland Teachers Union’s. It does articulate that teacher librarians are a specialty. But, at the same time, the counterpoint to that would be that the Queensland Teachers Union acknowledge that there is a degree of local decision-making—

CHAIR —But, Gary, you are on a different track. Will the department accept someone being employed and paid as a teacher librarian who does not hold both teaching and librarian qualifications?

Mr Francis —I have no doubt that there would be a number of people working in schools taking on part of that role who would be qualified teachers who may not have a teacher librarian qualification.

Dr JENSEN —If I could just make a statement here, I think you have heard from the reaction here—and I have no doubt that some of the people here are members of the union—that they would certainly have no objections in terms of stating what their highest qualification was and the fact that they were qualified in this profession. Evidence that we have had from all over Australia indicates that there seems to be this lack of appreciation of the role that the teacher librarian fulfils. You can get almost any teacher to fill the role of the school library. Something that the Brisbane diocese of the Catholic education system have done is to draw up clear guidelines and a clear role description of what a teacher librarian does. I would suggest that maybe that should be something that is broadened, not only within Queensland but nationally.

CHAIR —I will pass to Mrs D’Ath and you can make a comment on that in responding to her questions. I am just conscious of the time.

Mrs D’ATH —We have referred to the international evidence about the benefits of well-staffed libraries and literacy levels. I think just about every submission that we have received for today has actually made the point that learning outcomes are higher and higher education is reflected where there are properly staffed libraries and library resources in schools. I am interested to know the department’s perspective. Do you acknowledge the international research, do you agree with it and is the department promoting that within your schools?

Mr Francis —International research is part of the bank of information that is used across the department, whether it is around this particular issue or others, so certainly we acknowledge it. At the end of the day, there are a range of information sources that are used. We do rely to some degree on international research and to a large degree on research commonly commissioned with our own universities and higher education and in some cases private groups around a whole range of policy areas. We also acknowledge our own internal data sources.

CHAIR —Sorry, Gary; I want to avoid distracting you. The rest of the committee are keen to continue, but I have to leave to because I have to connect to a flight. I am going to hand the chair over to our deputy chair, Dennis Jensen, to continue. My apologies to everybody for disrupting you.

Mr Francis —We won’t take it personally!

Mrs D’ATH —I will try to refine my question a little bit more. We know there is a lot of work, including in our public schools in Queensland, to focus on the importance of lifting literacy levels. As part of that effort to improve literacy in our schools, is there a focus on acknowledging the important role of our libraries and qualified teacher librarians in our schools?

Ms McCullough —Whilst the paper that we put together has come from a few different sources, one of the themes has been that we certainly do believe that there is and needs to be a strong focus on supporting particularly quality student outcomes and teacher learning, however that might be delivered. I think it has been fairly clear within here that we have talked about the new libraries facilities through the Building the Education Revolution program and the key role that teacher librarians and libraries can play, whether it be in the community or whether it be as part of the learning core for students and for teachers, and I hope we are suggesting that throughout this document.

The other part of that is how that gets delivered. I have certainly read a bit of that research to prepare for here. I could not quote it now but I am certainly familiar with it. My area looks at it more broadly. We talk about the Queensland road map around curriculum and delivering for students, but within that platform—and I think I was alluding to this before—the resources at the school level, whether it be the teacher librarian, the ICT or whatever the technological resources are, do need to be utilised. I know I am talking fairly broadly there, but I do, as I said, hope that that theme does come through our submission and through our discussions, because it certainly is still very supported at the local level. It is going to be a regional and school decision into the future as to what happens around resourcing, but I am sure that some of our practices and our policies can also drive that support and I hope support the learnings in schools through the teacher librarian work.

Mrs D’ATH —My last question goes to, Laurie, what you were talking about with your workshops—going around and talking to schools about how best to utilise libraries, e-learning and the resources that come with that. Julie-Ann, you have just talked about teacher librarians and the library being able to play a key role, but, as part of the workshops, is that just one option being given to schools as to how they can improve their literacy level, so it is not seen as this is the central hub of the school to lift literacy? Is that simply one option? Is another option being given to schools that teachers themselves, through the introduction of new technology, can play a much bigger role in teaching the students and, as a consequence, there is not a need for teacher librarians or they do not play a key role?

Mr Campbell —If I can understand your question fully, and I might come back with some clarification—it is a complex question with a number of parts to it—in response to, ‘Have we got a qualification around encouraging teachers to improve their digital literacy skills’, yes, we do. We have what we call a professional development framework in ICT and e-learning, and in that we have three stages of development; from a certificate, which is a core digital literacy skill we expect teachers to actually have; to a license level, which is we have provided a laptop for every teacher teaching over 0.4—

Mrs D’ATH —I do not want to cut you off, but I might be able to assist. My question is not whether teachers are being given this further education or ability to improve their skills in IT; I know they are doing that. I have no concerns with teachers learning new skills, especially when it comes to utilising the technology that is there in their classrooms. They should be doing that. But, is there a view by the department that teachers can be used in place of teacher librarians now by providing them with these additional skills?

Mr Campbell —I can speak generally to that, and my colleagues might want to add to it. I know that on occasions a regional staffing officer may look to a teacher who is not a teacher librarian to fill a vacancy in a remote area. I know that occurs, and I think Gary has alluded to the fact. Are we deliberately setting out to discourage the role of teacher librarians? Absolutely not. We would believe that in the education of a child a number of coordinated strategies go towards the development of each child. We in Queensland are moving towards a more personal and customised model of that. Digital technologies underpin that. We have a system that allows us to track every child’s achievement from basically went into the system through to now and we are investing a lot into that technology. As Gary said, our push is to get better business intelligence to make better decisions on how best to shape our services to move those students along and accelerate those ones no matter where they are.

The system also allows us to target interventions in the needs areas of schools. It may be that in digital or general literacy we target interventions around making sure that those students have the necessary digital literacy skills in which to then gain something that, in the context, is meaningful to them and they are really engaged in and then they move forward. To answer your question: our department certainly believes that all the staff at the school play an important and critical role in every child’s education.

ACTING CHAIR —I want to go back to the issue of the job description. Do you have a clearly defined job description statement for teacher librarians? It is clear that there is no requirement for a specific qualification outside a teaching qualification, but do you have a specific job description for the role of teacher librarian?

Mr Francis —In the submission there is a specific reference, a web link. It is at on the second page, paragraph 5.

ACTING CHAIR —Thank you. I have not managed to access that yet. We might look at that at a later stage. Thank you for your attendance here today. If you have been asked to provide additional material, would you please provide it to the secretary. You will be sent a copy of the transcript of your evidence, to which you can make corrections of grammar and fact. Hansard may wish to ask you questions about evidence you have given. I would also like to say thank you for at least coming to the hearing—the department in Victoria decided not to. I appreciate that you decided to provide evidence.

Resolved (on motion by Mrs D’Ath):

That this committee authorises publication, including publication on the parliamentary database, of the transcript of the evidence given before it at public hearing this day.

Committee adjourned at 3.27 pm